[Wgcp-whc] New year--our schedule, 1st session 9/10

Richard Deming richard.deming at yale.edu
Tue Aug 24 18:31:07 EDT 2010

Dear All--

August is winding down and with each day the new academic  year draws  
nearer. This means, amongst other things, that a new year of the  
Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics will soon begin and  
this may be our most exciting year yet.

For newcomers to our group, here's our official description:

The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other  
Friday at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale  
University to discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry  
within international alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of  
lyric poetry. All are welcome to attend.

Our slate of visitors and discussions for this fall is set.  This fall  
will feature discussions with the poets C.D. Wright, Pierre Alferi,  
and David Shapiro. We'll also have a session led by our very own  
Hilary Kaplan (poet/translator/scholar) devoted to the work of  
Brazilian experimental poet Angelica Freitas.

Here's the whole semester's schedule at a glance:

WGCP Meeting
Friday, September 10 , 3 p.m.
Readings: OXO By Pierre Alferi

WGCP Meeting, Pierre Alferi Visit
Friday, September 17 , 3 p.m.
Readings: OXO By Pierre Alferi

Related Event: Jean Valentine Poetry Reading
Wednesday, September 29, 4:00 pm
Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street
Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series
Contact: nancy.kuhl at yale.edu

WGCP Meeting: a Discussion of the work of Angélica Freitas, led by  
translator Hilary Kaplan
Friday, October 8, 3 p.m.
Readings: Angélica Freitas readings TBA; essay by Hilary Kaplan

WGCP Meeting
Friday, October 22, 3 p.m.
Readings: C. D. Wright work TBA

WGCP Meeting: C. D. Wright Visit
Friday, November 5, 3 p.m.
Readings: TBA

WGCP Meeting
Friday, December 3, 3 p.m.
Readings: David Shapiro work TBA

WGCP Meeting, David Shapiro Visit
Friday, December 10, 3 p.m.
Readings: TBA

As you'll see, our first sessions are very soon into the semester--the  
first two Fridays. This is to accommodate Pierre Alfreri who is  
traveling to the U.S. from France.  We will meet on Sept 7 to discuss  
Alferi's book OXO (translated by Cole Swensen). Copies are available  
to group members and can be picked up from our mailbox in the main  
office of the Whitney Humanities Center .  They are there now and  
these copies tend to go quickly so don't wait to get yours. Alferi  
will then join us on the 17th to have a conversation about his work.

Here is some information about Alferi and his book (from his official  
bio note at the European Graduate School site)

Pierre Alféri is a French novelist, poet, and essayist, born in 1963  
in France, and currently living in Paris. He earned a degree in  
Philosophy at the University of Paris and published his thesis on  
William of Ockham (Guillaume d'Ockham) in 1989. In 1991, he published  
another philosophical essay on questions of language and literature,  
Chercher une phrase. Nevertheless, Alféri did not pursue an academic  
career in philosophy; instead, he became one of the most innovative  
French poets of today. He has since published several books of poetry,  
including Les Allures naturelles (1991), Le Chemin familier du poisson  
combatif (1992), Kub Or (1994), Sentimentale journée (1997), La Voie  
des airs (2004) as well as the novels Fmn (1994) and Le cinéma des  
familles (1999), and most recently Les Jumelles (2009).

In Alféri's poetry, language plays a very important role. One of his  
widely praised collections of poems, Kub Or (translated into English  
as Oxo), uses the concept of the bouillon cube, with each poem two- 
dimensionally reflecting a side of the cube. The book consists of  
seven poems, each poem made up of seven lines and each line composed  
of seven syllables. Being not only a propitiatory number, a good omen  
and the number of daily life, the number seven also challenges the  
dominant prosody in French poetry and the use of even-numbered  
syllabic lines. This asymmetric meter produces surprises, cuts and  
overlapping, with each poem describing some aspect of modern Paris in  
seven short lines. Being interested in the minutiae of modern life, it  
comes as no surprise that the media occupy the center of attention in  
these poems – cinema, TV, advertising – as well as the artifacts of  
low and high culture. Alféri takes the reader on a journey through the  
streets, commercial life, politics, music, and the questions of how  
much the figures from the past inhabit the consciousness of the  
present. As a poet, he is not alienated, but always prepared to engage  
actively with the variety of experiences he encounters. In the same  
way, this engagement is expected from the reader as well – if the  
poems are bouillon cubes, the mind of the reader is the boiling water  
in which to dissolve them and fully taste the modern life.


I'll paste below a useful review of Oxo by John Couth.  In the  
meantime, pick up your copy and we'll convene on Sept 7 for another  
exciting year of the WGCP.


Richard Deming, Co-coordinator
Pierre Alferi: Oxo
(Translated by Cole Swensen; Burning Deck, Providence, R.I., 2005;  
paperback, 60pp, $10; isbn 1886224668)

Pierre Alferi has published four books of poetry in his native French:  
Oxo is the translation into English by Cole Swensen of his third book  
(Kub Or, 1994). Although it would have been interesting to have the  
French original on the page opposite the translated text, it's evident  
from the acknowledgement that poet and translator have worked in close  
collaboration. (Also one can make out the case for exclusion of the  
originals on aesthetic grounds because, for this book 		        to  
work, its presentation must remain visually sparse and tightly  
conceived.) The language style that results is informal, American and  

The book's structure relies on the notion of the bouillon cube, with  
each poem two dimensionally reflecting a side – but this is no  
conventional regular hexahedron, rather one reliant on cube as in  
root, in this case a cube root of seven. Each poem is made up of seven  
lines of seven syllables, with each section containing seven poems.  
These comprise the 'cube' which Alferi offers to imaginative  

In Hebrew the number seven represents completeness and totality; in  
Oxo, the poet seeks to make complete, to give shape, pattern to  
disparate experiences of daily city life – the seven sections  
represent the completeness, the totality of the ordering system. The  
floating impressions of a succession of external and internal  
experiences require structure if sense is to follow, poet and reader  
work side by side as the generators of such order and understanding.

An idea of what's being attempted is signalled in 'preface', the  
seventh poem in the book:
here is seven times seven
times seven times seven a
far-fetched grunge idea for
you in hard cubes of almost
anything goes like on T.
V. in fact it's almost as
good as compacting the trash

It's 'a grunge idea . . . like on T.V.' and like TV the book combines  
all things together regardless of connection or harmony; the unifying  
principle is the medium, as here it's the bouillon 'compacting the  
trash'. The artefacts of the low and high cultures of the Paris  
cityscape are ordered within the book like a succession of adverts  
within a commercial break which jostle for our attention while  
sequentially contributing to a greater picture. The book's final poem,  
entitled 'coda', talks about the absorbency of 'tampon words', at once  
both redolent of personal and cultural reference, which need to be  
'unfurled', dissolved in our psyches if we are to glimpse beneath  
surfaces. Interpretively, we must create the 'boiling water' in which  
to dissolve these poems that represent to us the variety and intensity  
of experiences we daily encounter but may fail to make mean. Alferi  
suggests that just as under scrutiny the poems will continue unfold  
new meanings, so too will experience. It's like greedily supping the  
ah it's so very ah how
absorbent these tampon words
made to be unfurled so
quick one more one last one quick


The book's first poem introduces the notion of a shuffled 'flip-book',  
which fits appositely with our experience of the rapid succession of  
scenes that ensue, that and the cinematic technique of the jump cut.  
Playing such a central part in contemporary life, it's little surprise  
that the media should occupy Alferi's attention – cinema, TV, the  
Walkman, advertising are reduced to their cubes of scrutiny.

But everything's worthy of attention. In 'regular', the poet focuses  
on the meaning-full, important sounding, quasi-scientific language of  
a health product ad, replete with its evident vacuous inability to  
deliver – the 'if' of the poem's beginning creating the logical  
uncertainty of what the 'low low price of regular' can never buy:
if it's true that it contains
quite naturally the enzyme
necessary for modern
life then this built-in leak-proof
agent protects enriches
the ozone layer at the
low low price of regular

Other of the poems in the 'shuffle' deal with street and commercial  
life, politics, music and the ways in which figures from high culture,  
such as Charles Ives and Flaubert, can inhabit a consciousness in the  
. . . all I can tell you
is that life which paces you
in the distance as Paris
once did me will but too late
be completely fulfilling.

the france of henry james

Oxo expresses Alfieri's determination not to be paced 'in the distance'.

The tone of the poems range from humorous, satirical, affectionate,  
resigned, committed; alienation is never an issue, with the poet at  
all times prepared to engage intelligently with the variety of  
experience/reality he encounters. The language throughout is spare and  
precise, as one might expect given the strictures of form, almost  
devoid of tropes, closer indeed to what Aristotle might have described  
as rhetoric. The cube device allows for nothing wasteful – dissolution  
of the bouillon is only possible through the reader's engagement.
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